Rishi Sunak has hinted that he will press ahead with his Brexit deal even if it does not win DUP support as Lord Frost on Tuesday suggested Tory MPs should accept it.
The Prime Minister said securing the agreement was “not about any one political party” and that it will make a “hugely positive difference” to people in Northern Ireland.
His remarks came as the prospect of a rebellion against the pact appeared to be fizzling out, with senior Eurosceptics conceding it is set to breeze through the Commons.
Analysis by The Telegraph shows more than a hundred Tory MPs have publicly backed the deal, including a significant number of high-profile Brexiteers.
Meanwhile, ministers have warned the DUP that there is no prospect of them going back to Brussels and asking them to renegotiate the terms of the new pact.
The UK and the EU this week agreed to overhaul the Protocolwhich lays down the terms on which Northern Ireland trades with both Great Britain and the continent.
Mr. Sunak was asked during a trip to Ulster whether he would be prepared to forge ahead with the deal regardless of the Unionist party’s support.
He replied: “This is not necessarily about me or any one political party. This is about what is best for the people and communities and businesses of Northern Ireland and this agreement will make a hugely positive difference to them.”
The Prime Minister said he was confident the agreement “addresses the concerns” of the DUP by almost eliminating Irish Sea checks and giving Stormont a veto over new EU laws.
He also told MPs at a meeting of the 1922 committee: “We were all elected on a commitment to get Brexit done. That meant not just getting the UK out of the EU, ending free movement and taking back control but also ending the arguments and allowing politics to focus on other issues.”
He revealed that he had “spent a lot of time” with Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP leader as part of his attempts to break the current political deadlock in Northern Ireland.
“And I would just say one thing to you all: we should give him and the DUP time and space,” Mr. Sunak added, as he acknowledged a “spectrum of views” within the unionist party.
He was given a huge boost by the intervention of Lord Frost, who heavily criticized the settlement but did not urge MPs to reject it.
The former Brexit negotiator, who is an influential figure among eurosceptics, acknowledged there was unlikely to be any serious opposition to the pact.
Writing in The Telegraph, he said: “The Government certainly seems to have landed it well. Most Conservatives, including some prominent Brexiteers, without much evident scrutiny or reflection, have come out in support.
“It is hard to see much real parliamentary opposition and the DUP’s position remains uncertain. In short, it’s going to happen. At one level, so it should.”
Lord Frost said the concessions granted by Brussels were “all worth having” and will help improve the situation on the ground in the Province.
But he accused the government of “some overclaiming” on the benefits and warned it “does not seem to change the fundamentals” of the original border fix.
His remarks came as Mr Sunak won the backing of key Brexiteers, with No 10 increasingly confident he can keep any Commons rebellion down to around 30.
Downing Street has promised Parliament a vote on the deal but has not laid out the timetable for one yet on the basis that MPs need time to analyze the pact.
Adam Afriye, one of the “Spartans” who rejected Theresa May’s deal on three occasions, said that with it “the last major Brexit hurdle has been overcome”.
Daniel Kawcyznski, a veteran Eurosceptic, praised the “historic agreement” and said it is one “the vast majority of the Conservative parliamentary party can vote for”.
Mr Sunak told a meeting of the backbench 1922 committee that the new Stormont veto power will mean “Unionists can’t be forced to accept things that they don’t want”.
Urging his own MPs to support the agreementhe told them: “Let’s also remember that the last thing the public wants is another Westminster drama.”
The Prime Minister said the DUP, which has assembled a team of lawyers to pore over the text, would be given plenty of time to scrutinize the agreement.
But Steve Baker, the Northern Ireland minister, warned the Unionist party that “there isn’t a different deal available” and urged it to accept what is on the table.
“What has been achieved dramatically improves the conditions for Northern Ireland and it really wouldn’t be sensible to drop it and go back on it,” he said.